A treasure trove of silverware has been found in boxes hidden in the depths of the vaults at Parliament Buildings. Unknown to the folks on the hill, they have been doing business over an extensive collection of silver of historical significance to both Northern Ireland and the Assembly.
The silverware was presented to Lord Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, over the course of his political career. It will now be donated to the Ulster Museum by his family.
No value has been placed on the items, but political historian Dr Eamon Phoenix said it would be “worth a pretty penny”.
The historical significance will mean the artefacts are worth a lot more than normal silverware.
“It’s modern silverware from the early 20th century which would normally be on the lower end of the value scale,” said the UUP’s Danny Kinahan, who worked at Christie’s auction house in the 1980s.
“However, if you add the Craig name — and all those plates have polling names and the crest — they are incredibly important, so yes, if they were ever to come up for sale they would probably make a lot of money because they are part of our heritage.
“Typically, something of importance would make 10, 12, 15 times its estimate at auction.”
Around 90 items make up the collection including plates, bowls, baskets, keys, a cigar-box, an ink-well and a truncheon. Mr Kinahan said the collection was “pertinent” because it represents “a key time in our history”.
“I haven’t honestly seen anything more important in recent history,” he said. “Very rarely do you get solid silver with such a strong political link and such a strong period in history. There just aren’t very many pieces like that.”
Lord Craigavon is synonymous with Stormont. The first Prime Minister of the country, his statue overlooks the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings and he is also buried in the grounds of the estate.
He was seen as a unionist hero for his “not an inch” promise to hold the boundary of the new country at the time of Partition. Equally, this made him a hate-figure in the eyes of nationalists.
The silverware dates from the across the span of James Craig’s career, from his early political life as an “uncharismatic” back-bench MP, through his time as a soldier in the Boer War, his position as Grand Master of the Orange Order, his opposition to Home Rule and tenure as Prime | Minister.
Calling the collection “an interesting echo of Ulster’s historic past”, Dr Phoenix said it marks a significant period in our history.
Items recall a number of dates which will be commemorated in the coming decade, including the signing of the Covenant in 1912 and a Celtic cup from 1925 which marked Craig’s delivery of his “not an inch” boundary pledge, as well as a truncheon marking the UVF gun-running at Larne in 1914.